By Lynette Hazelton and Abraham Gutman
Sappho Fulton’s work with people experiencing homelessness requires her to navigate the community’s mental health resources every day.
But there is a year-old resource that she hadn’t heard about: 988, a three-digit national mental health and suicide prevention hotline.
“If anybody needs to know about 988, it’s us,” said Fulton, program director of the Michael Hinson Resource Center at 17th Street and Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia. “We need posters all around here.”
Fulton is not alone. A Pew Charitable Trusts survey found that most adults in the United States aren’t aware of the hotline, even in the midst of what the U.S. Surgeon General called a youth mental health crisis and as suicide numbers threaten to reverse increases in life expectancy.
Leaders from several community organizations whose clients often express mental health concerns — Mothers in Charge, Intercultural Family Services, Ardella’s House, and Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network — all told The Inquirer that they had not heard of 988.
Still, calls to Philadelphia crisis call center are rising overall, along with the number of times the city dispatches mobile crisis units to respond in the community. As 988 enters its second year, the city is looking to expand awareness and build trust.